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Dear 2005, so far you’re Zero for Two. What’s next?

Like its predecessor, Daredevil, Elektra is a flat out disappointment. It's true that screenwriters Zak Penn and Stu Zicherman draw loosely from Frank Miller's graphic novel Elektra: Assassin, but that’s not enough to make a difference.

Ultimately, it all boils down to poor casting, poor characterization and poor treatment of a solid property. I still can't seem to warm up to Jennifer Garner as Elektra no matter how hard I try, and bottom line, I find myself not caring for her on film the way I did for her comic book counterpart. Miller’s Elektra was a tough as nails assassin whose mind was her only Achilles Heel. Fragile and broken psychologically, Elektra’s past was as much a part of her definition as her present activity, whether that be killing for hire or seeking revenge.

The irony is that Daredevil affects Elektra in a very interesting fashion. We all know Daredevil suffered extreme cuts to meet a PG-13 rating, and all parties involved claim that the film ultimately suffered because of it. This is certainly plausible. They've since released a “Director's Cut” of the film, which supposedly "rights" the "wrongs" committed in the first film, but I have yet to give it a whirl.

How this affects Elektra is that the film feels almost untouched in a very wrong way allowing it to meander at times. It's as if the execs decided to back off completely and refrain from forcing cuts to avoid a repeat of the earlier movie at the box office. However, what is lacking is some much needed trimming to better the flow of narrative, and pull this in as a decent sub-par action film. The first act is an exercise in patience as it is so tedious that when it finally reaches its destination the payoff feels moderate and slightly underwhelming.

The appearance of Stick (Terence Stamp) and Typhoid Mary (Natassia Malthe), here dubbed only as Typhoid, certainly make the film more interesting, but it isn’t difficult to feel unsettled with the characterization employed here as well. Stick plays “master” well enough, but not enough is yielded to understanding him, what he means to Elektra, and his relationship to The Hand. Absent is the understanding, or even the reasoning that made these characters so pivotal in the comics. Typhoid Mary is a character so deadly that her presence exudes pestilence and decay. She literally has a lethal touch, and worthy of being feared. CG effects are used well enough to establish her powers, but she serves as, ultimately, an afterthought, completely devoid of any real threat within the confines of her role.

What lacks most is the depth needed to make Elektra truly intriguing. Where is the student that grew so powerful and deadly in her skill that she killed her own sensei to gain acceptance into The Hand? Where is the woman so cracked that she finds her memories turning on her as she searches for peace amongst recollection? Where is the cold blooded assassin who agrees to kill for money, and then names her price at two dollars? None of these issues are even grazed in this adaptation, and what we wind up with is a character so filled with brood and nuance, yet lacking the justified reasoning for being this way.

It's one thing to say that “killing” has hardened Elektra, it’s another to dive into the how and why it has hardened her. That has always been where the intrigue behind the character has flourished, because artists chose to address these issues and work through them, not dance around them and use inference to suggest that something more might exist underneath the surface. Miller’s Elektra blended the questionable ethics of noir with the personal internal struggle with one’s past.

Here we blend spectacle with Jennifer Garner in a red suit.

Viewers that make it through the troublesome first act will be rewarded with a stew that never really comes to a full boil. There are enjoyable elements here, and the introduction to Abby Miller (Kirsten Prout), who is basically a younger version of Elektra, is equal parts compelling and ridiculous. The fact that it compels at all is credited to Prout, who manages to make you care for her character in a way Garner is never able to fully harness. The situation remains preposterous because this film should spend more time answer questions about its main character instead of developing another character altogether.

The film draws correlations between Abby and Elektra, and even plays on the idea that Elektra helps Abby and her father Mark (Goran Visnjic) because she wants a better life for Abby than she had as a young budding killer. That’s fine and well-intended, but we don’t fully comprehend the depths to which Elektra’s life has sunk to fully feel for her in this regard. Sure, her father Nikolas was killed in the previous film, and we see flashbacks of an eight year old Elektra discovering her dead mother (Jana Mitsoula). Yet even these tragic events are underscored so heavily that we dismiss them almost entirely.

To add to this disconnect, Nikolas Natchios (Kurt Max Runte) is portrayed hear as an overbearing father, bent on pushing Elektra to the extreme limits by forcing her to stay afloat in a pool when she is too tired to tread any more water. This near drowning is presented as a moment of torment from her youth, and hardly supports the endearing nature of her relationship with her father from the previous film.

This time around, director Mark Steven Johnson wisely chose to remain only an Executive Producer, turning the helm over to Rob Bowman. This was a wise move because the screenplay alone appears to falter emotionally and characteristically all over the map.

In the end, Elektra is bound to disappoint comic Fanboys, without a doubt. Many unfamiliar with the character’s comic pursuits will likely fall on either side of the fence, because despite a lukewarm center, the film eventually leaves too many loose and dangling threads unanswered. This sacrifice of cogent storytelling is undoubtedly in hopes of a hit this weekend, which would ensure a sequel to the franchise.


Mario Anima

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